Wednesday, June 29, 2011


One of two large Plum Island hemlocks
measured in 1981 - Roy Lukes photo

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

In late summer of 1981, I had the pleasure of hiking the woods on Plum Island with Roy Lukes.  We  were on a mission to relocate several large hemlock trees I had seen there while hunting the previous fall.   I knew that Roy, who at that time was the Naturalist at the Ridges Sanctuary, might be interested.

We walked the island's interior forest, which at that time had begun to show signs of overbrowsing by the island's increasing deer population.  We had received permission to hike then from the Station Chief at the Plum Island Coast Guard Station.  Roy encapsulated our trip in an article he wrote as a featured columnist for the Door County Advocate:

"Dick found what he thought might be a contender for the state hemlock champion.  My tape showed it to be 9 feet 8 inches around with a height of 75 feet.  After giving it some thought, my friend decided to head in a different direction toward a possibly larger specimen.   
"Within minutes he had found it, quite a giant with a circumference of 10 feet 7 inches, a height of 86 feet and a average crown spread of 49 feet.  Looking at my book of state records we both broke out in big smiles as we read, "Shawano County, 10 feet 4 inches."   That record is old, however, and needs to be checked."

Roy later followed up with an inquiry to Guy Rodgers, Supervisor of Private Forestry for the Wisconsin DNR.  Mr. Rodgers' reply indicated the two hemlocks we measured were 224.85 and 236.12, respectively, in terms of points.  He also reported that the state record hemlock was in Sawyer County and totaled 257 points!  It should be noted that the national point system as recognized by the American Forestry Association recognizes a record tree according to an accumulation of points, those points taking into consideration circumference, height, and crown spread.  The State of Wisconsin, however, scores only by circumference.  (Roy noted in his column that all measurements are usually taken, in the event the tree may be close to the national record.)

Fast forward

The Plum Island hemlocks were measured some 30 years ago.  During that span the life and health of a tree changes, growth may occur, and new giants may have been discovered.

Several weeks ago when I attended an island slide program narrated by Roy, he reminded me of our 1981 trip, and he wondered if we might be able to obtain permission to visit Plum Island once again from the island's present ower and manager, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.   Our plan is to return to Plum Island later this summer in order to relocate and remeasure these same two trees, and to find out how much they might have grown during that time.

Perhaps the trees we measured have grown closer to becoming a state champion tree.  Larger trees around the state might have succumbed...or, there might be new near-record trees discovered as more and more people seek them out and measure them.   Roy has often written about large trees in his column (a state record hophornbeam was found at Newport State Park by Kirby Foss a few years back). Finding and admiring outstanding trees, and measuring the largest, are among the many enjoyable aspects of walking about in local forests, along with knowing these specimens have been here for generations and will live well beyond our time.

While our Wisconsin trees might not measure up to the giants found in other states, Wisconsin does have a great amount of forested land and each year new candidates for champion status are discovered.  In the case of Plum Island, we theorized that the moist lake air, heavy fog or damp evenings, might have promoted growth in these particular hemlocks.  With the exception of a combined U.S. Forestry and Wisconsin DNR logging effort in the summer of 1985, when the island was commercially logged for the first time, no timber had been harvested there.  While these two large hemlocks from the island's interior were spared the chainsaw then, dozens of semi-loads of logs were harvested that summer, followed by scraping the ground to promote new seedling growth.  Then planters seeded new trees, oak seedlings among them.  (Dessert for the deer!)

Unfortunately, among the trees sawn down in 1985 were several outstanding white cedars with bark "strips" that were several inches wide at chest height above the base of each tree.  I estimated with my "wingspan" that these trees measured nearly 8 feet in circumference.   These old cedars were most likely hollow, anyway, and had very little value as timber, but they were perhaps among the largest of Door County's cedars.

Now with U.S. Fish and Wildlife as owner and protector of this island's habitat, Plum Island's remote hemlocks have a strong chance of surviving many more decades, barring disease or a lightening strike.  Their periodic measurement, in addition to being a curiosity, may further contribute to the knowledge of our local forests.  

-  Dick Purinton

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


An example of the vigor with which the phragmites
plant has taken hold on Washington Island shores,
here on the sandy beach overlooking Rock Island.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Consider the lowly zebra mussel on Lake Michigan rock bottoms, the wild parsnip of the Door County roadside ditch, the garlic mustard that has taken over wooded glens, and the ever-increasing clumps of phragmites that grow in wet and low shoreline areas.  

Each of the above species, and many others, became the focus of attention from approximately 15 representatives of federal, state, county, town and non-profit foundation organizations today at the Island Community Center.

Working from memory, those organizations represented were:   U.S. Fish and Wildlife;  Wisconsin DNR; Door County Soil and Water;  Town of Washington Town Board and Parks Committee members; the Ridges Sanctuary, Baileys Harbor; the Nature Conservancy;  the Door County Land Trust...each of whom interact with one another and the various agencies, to exchange information, promote ecology and slow or stop invasive plants and animals, and provide grant assistance to communities and groups to actually apply measures that will hamper the spread of species that choke out native plants and animals.
Joined together, their expertise and resources fall under the heading, Door County Invasive Species Team, or DCIST.

A question that I should have asked early in the presentation, that might have led to my greater understanding of the much more specific topic of waging battle against a particular plant or animal:

     Who decides what is an invasive specie?    Once on the list, have any plants or animals placed on an official invasive species list been removed, following concerted efforts to eliminate them?

It was clear from the comments of both the professional biologists and the audience members (some of whom have organized against the spread of phragmites and other exotic plants) that a line had been drawn to stop an advance.  Identification of problem areas, of money sources to bring expertise and hands to bear (and in some cases, chemicals), seemed to comprise the greatest audience expression.

There is a natural tendency to be most concerned about one's own property, and after that, one's own community (in this case, Washington Island), and after that, the county, northeastern Wisconsin and perhaps the Great Lakes as a whole.    But mostly, people seemed concerned about what could be done for them, now and in the near future, if I read audience comments correctly.

Representatives of WDNR explained how Door County and neighboring counties have been studied, with Priority Conservation areas (highlighted on a map) for concentration of efforts.  A good share of those areas are public lands considered to have a significant ecology... of not only local, but of global significance.  (Again, we didn't find out who decided this, or how such designation was decided.)

The air turned a bit prickly when a question was asked of a USFWS speaker, "Aren't cormorants an invasive specie?"   The response:   USFWS considers the cormorant to be a protected bird, and not invasive.   It was noted that as an exception to this policy (if that is what it is) WDNR has oiled cormorant eggs on remote nesting island these past several years.  Nests on Hog Island were similarly destroyed, apparently, by USFWS personnel.  However, Pilot Island's USFWS protected rookery was noted as being a discrepancy, an exception to current accepted bureaucratic/administrative policy for those birds.  

Again, who decides what is protected, or not? Or what is invasive, or not?  Is it Congress? State legislature, designated scientific or an enforcement organization?  Public outcry?

An observation hard to overlook, made on my trip north along the western shore to the U.P. two  weekends ago, were the acres upon acres of phragmites that grew along the shoreline, both in lower Green Bay and along the shoreline of upper Green Bay as far as Escanaba.  

If thousands of dollars are being spent to eradicate phragmites from Washington Island and Door County's shores by highly organized and motivated citizenry, while little or nothing is being done to stop phragmites by our Michigan counterparts some 20 miles as the cormorant flies, would our efforts be like spitting in the wind?   It was acknowledged by several speakers that phragmites is an aquatic specie.  So it stands to reason that water currents, or bird droppings with plant seeds embedded, or perhaps uprooted plants floating on the surface, might continually reseed stretches of shoreline where there is not yet a phragmites problem, or reinfest shores where the problem had been eliminated.  What sort of broad coordination is there to ensure this won't be the case?

I suppose this piece sounds like that of a defeatist, by saying that for at least some species that have Washington Island or Wisconsin or the Great Lakes as their new home, it seems that no number of well-intentioned work parties with gloves, shovels and plastic sacks, or jugs of chemicals, will ever completely eradicate these plants and animals, now that they are here.    

Is getting rid of one invasive specie on one's own property the most we can do as individuals, allowing us to claim victory in a much larger battle? Or must one's neighbors and community invest similar amounts of money, time, energy?

Perhaps we need to more wisely pick our battles, given our rather limited resources and energy, and figure out ways we can either use these species in a positive way, or ignore them, and still live our lives in relative peace and harmony with what is the new natural world around us.  

 -   Dick Purinton

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Kayakers on Northport beach after completing group
paddle across Death's Door Sunday morning.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

The 2011 Washington Island Canoe and Kayak Event was a success once again, in that the various activities weren't blown out or rained out, and the quality of each activity appeared to be of a high level.  Participants, for these reasons, appeared well satisfied with the offering of challenges and paddling camaraderie.

Saturday's Around-the-Island Marathon Race of 23.2 miles had 22 participants, and all but two paddlers completed the course.  The first six paddlers to finish were bunched quite closely after more than three hours of racing, and in the flatter Detroit Harbor waters they closed on the finish line with an extra kick.  The open water race course conditions ranged from 15 mph headwinds and 2-3 ft. seas, to a rather light West Side downwind leg from Bowyer's Bluff (where paddlers had encountered a nasty chop from rebounding NNE seas) to Detroit Harbor and the Gislason Beach finish line near the Red Barn.

Marathon race winner Kevin LeRoy, Madison, finished with a time of 3:29:32.  The next three paddlers finished close behind:   John Sandborn;  Greg Green;  and last year's winner, John Abrahams.

Coast Guard Auxiliary members Russ Hoganson and John Davies confer with
race course observer Scott Sonic as the Marathon Race began at Gislason Beach.
Coast Guard Auxiliary craft monitored the entire race course, and Sonic's boat
anchored in Washington Harbor was a mandatory race mark.
A half-marathon event of approximately 12 miles ran within Detroit Harbor concurrently with the full marathon.   Half marathon participants raced around buoys set along the harbor's shallow perimeter.  First place finisher was John Harrington with a time of 1:40:12.

Saturday evening at the Trueblood Performing Arts Center (TPAC), Roy and Charlotte Lukes, Egg Harbor,  narrated a selection of their nature photos.  Roy Lukes is considered foremost among Door County naturalists, and Charlotte is an expert on Door County mushrooms, having identified over 550 different species.  Each is eager to teach and inspire others, passing along their respect and passion for nature.  Roy's slides ranged from close-ups of flowers, mushrooms, birds and mammals to aerials of Door County's shoreline, including the Rock and Washington Island shorelines.

The Lukes presentation drew approximately 75 audience members, and the evening marked the first official event held in the TPAC since the facility was recently awarded State of Wisconsin public building certification.   The interior looked and smelled clean and fresh, owing to much scrubbing and fresh paint on interior wall surfaces.  

Sunday morning's Expedition Across Death's Door went forward as planned when a large rain cell passed  east of Washington Island prior to the 9:30 am launch time.  The winds were NE, 10-15 mph, and the crossing was a piece of cake until paddlers met larger lake swells in Death's Door, south of Plum Island's Rear Range light.

This Expedition, just over four miles in length, is considered open and exposed waters, but it is open to paddlers with a range of skill levels.  As such, Tim Pfleiger and his associates from Team Leadership Center of Door County closely monitored the group.   Pfleiger teaches kayak skills (which he did most of Saturday during the Kayak Symposium based at Gislason Beach), and the abilities of these leaders were put to good use during the Sunday morning crossing.  One participant rolled his kayak in the Door, but chose to continue, rather than boarding one of the safety boats.  With the assistance of Pfleiger and one of his associates,  this paddler reentered his kayak in short order and resumed paddling across Death's Door, fulfilling a personal goal.

Paddlers stop briefly near the old
Plum Island fog signal before setting
course across the Door to Northport.
Plans are already underway to refine and improve upon, where possible, the various events of WICKE 2011.

Mother nature, wind and temperature, are always key factors, and the range of weather conditions encountered during this past WICKE weekend is probably close to the average for mid-June.

The safety and satisfaction of paddling participants (and observers) is a major goal of the WICKE weekend.  A secondary goal is highlighting the economic importance to Washington Island, achieved through the purchase of goods and services over the 2-3 day period, and establishing this area as an inviting place to enjoy water sports.  We know that a number of paddlers chose to stay beyond the weekend, and our expectations are that many  will return for canoeing or kayaking later this summer.
  -  Dick Purinton

Friday, June 17, 2011


L to R:  John Chapman (TPAC); Terry Patrick, Project Engineer;
Jane Dreger, State of Wisconsin Building Inspector;
Bill Norris (TPAC)


Before the weekend comes along (and it is almost upon us) and yesterday's news becomes footnotes, there are several notable events to relate to readers.

Trueblood Performing Arts Center

The considerable remediation work that took place on Main Road at the Wilson and Carol Trueblood Performing Arts Center (TPAC) during the past six months received approval from State of Wisconsin Building Inspector G. Jane Dreger for "full occupancy."  

The facility has undergone significant modifications of roof truss supports and exterior walls, remediation items that were required to pass state code following a close-down of the building for public use in November of 2009.  Dreger conducted her final inspection walk through Wednesday morning, along with TPAC Project Engineer Terry Patrick of Professional Project Services, Inc., Milwaukee, and principal members of the TPAC Building Committee, John Chapman and Committee Chair Bill Norris.

Items that were most recently checked to State Code satisfaction were exit landings, exit lights and signage.  Dreger gave positive praise for what will be a building far superior structurally, and in its ability  to heat in cold weather, following the various measures taken to improve footing support for trusses and building wall materials that will raise the insulation to R-24 or better.

According to Norris, the long road to recovery received excellent technical support from the engineering firm hired to resolve discrepancies, represented by Terry Patrick of Professional Project Services, Inc., and the firmness, but also the patience and desire of the State to resolve this facility's deficiencies in the public's interest.

General comments were overheard regarding the canvas sails design element located in front of the building. They now stand out for the first time against the darker colored building siding.   Noting extensive steel beams and cross-bracing to achieve that artistic embellishment, it seemed a pity the structural engineering for the building didn't get the same degree of attention as the heavily built, stand-alone sail supports.

As the signed document was transferred to the TPAC representatives by the State, final exterior cosmetic changes were made to the main entry by Mark Randolph, Tom Jordan, Mike Remke (shown below) and Tim Ervin (painting window trim).

Walter Jorgenson

Word was received this morning that Walt Jorgenson, island resident all his life, passed away late Thursday.   Walt is survived by his wife, Mary, daughters Betty and Jeanette and sons Bill and Paul, and their families which include many grandchildren and several great grandchildren.

Readers of this blog and the 2010 book Bridges Are Still News may remember the piece I wrote about Walt several winters ago.   Retired commercial fisherman and foreman for the Anderson Potato Farm, Walt faithfully followed the daily ferry activities in his later years, especially days when son Bill was on board as ferry captain.

Walt's funeral will be held Monday morning, with military honors.  Our condolences to his family.
Walt Jorgenson behind the wheel of his truck at the ferry dock
on a frosty winter's morning, 2009.

Northport Visitor Center Official Opening

Although the Northport Visitor Center opened its doors to the public for the first time Memorial Day weekend, the official opening was marked Wednesday evening when approximately 60 people representing Island Chamber of Commerce businesses attended a reception held there.

A special ferry brought guests from the island to view the former Northport restaurant space now transformed by a variety of photos, a painting, displays and brochures, all of which is hosted daily 9:30 am to 3:00 pm by Chamber and Ferry Line representatives.   Positive energy emanated through the crowd of guests, fired perhaps by optimism for improved tourism and the possibilities the new Center might offer in marketing the island.

A number of peninsula-based Chamber members also attended, as well as Peninsula Pulse photographer Dan Eggert.   Photos below were taken Wednesday evening by several contributing photographers.

Island Chamber members arrive for Visitor Center open house (Tim Sweet photo)

Island Chamber President, Carol Stayton
(Above photos submitted by Tim Sweet, Jeanette Hanlin, Dick Purinton)
Mary Andersen, Joanne Elmore and Jeanette Hanlin pose in front of oil painting
by Eric Brodersen.  Water lily is in the oil painting!  (Hanlin photo)

-  Dick Purinton


Warm slices of birdseed bread.
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island, Wisconsin -

From the kitchen of the former Moonpennies Cafe, located just beyond the island ferry dock and next to the Washington Island Visitor Center, wonderful aromas are wafting from oven-fresh bread baked by Heidi Gilbertson.

Heidi learned brick oven baking in Red Lodge, Montana, at her small coffee shop where she built a brick baking oven.  She is now in her seventh year of baking specialty breads using the brick oven method.  She had been baker for the Washington Hotel here for several years, and when it closed in early 2010, she then leased the hotel's brick oven and began her own business, Island Bread Company.  This spring Heidi set up her baking equipment in the kitchen of the former Moonpennies Cafe, where this noon I picked up several loaves of warm birdseed bread to take home.

Because Heidi has no access to a brick baking oven at the present time, she uses an LP-fired pizza oven to continue production.  Bread is her main product line, but there are other items, too.  One day earlier this week, a cooling rack was filled with pizza crusts for a Madison customer.  Using a prep table, Maya Woods, Heidi's assistant, made pastries.  On an entry shelf, a small electric mill ground out island red winter wheat, and while she kept tabs on the flour mill, Heidi began to mix a new batch dough.  This former restaurant kitchen is small compared with her former work space, but according to Heidi it is very efficient.  The baked results bear proof of both efficiency and quality.

Heidi's background is in wildlife ecology.  Employed with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, she worked at various times, for example, with amphibians, wolves and the endangered Karner blue butterfly. While baking may seem distant from that career path, in a way it stimulated Heidi's interest in natural food products and the processes that she uses in baking.   She's learned the chemical actions that create natural starter, or levain, and temperature control that lead to baking excellence.

Brick vs. pizza oven

What differences are there between the wood-fired brick oven and the pizza oven?

"There's a huge difference in the bread," Heidi replied.  "The brick oven is hotter than the pizza oven. It stays hotter and gives better crust, because the brick is hot all around the bread.  It creates what is commonly called 'oven spring,' or liveliness.  The crust and dough spring to life in a brick oven."

A down side of a wood-fired brick oven is that a fire must be built eight to ten hours before baking.  The brick oven is a retained-heat oven, so once the oven reaches desired temperature, coals and ash are swept clear.  Then it is mopped and allowed to dry while the heat distributes evenly, taking about an hour, before its ready at last for baking.

"I bake smaller items first, like baguettes, then the larger bread loaves, and then as the oven cools, cakes and pastries.  The thermocouple which has six different sensors tells me what temperatures are all around the oven.  Ideally, they are within 50 degrees of one another."

Heidi bakes most weekdays, but bread is baked on Thursdays and Fridays.

"I have two days of prep time for bread," Heidi continued.  "Day one, I mix a portion of water and flour.
Day two, I mix the remainder of the dough and refrigerate overnight.  Day three, I bake.   The slow development of the dough allows the flavor of the wheat to come through, and the baked bread will have no spoiling due to the process and the natural preservatives found in the levain.

"I learn how the dough feels after it sits for four to five hours.  Every 1/2 hour I fold the dough, rather than the traditional machine mixing - all by feel.  Room temperature and humidity can also make a difference."

Is there a better time of year for baking?

"Winter is better time of year for bread making in terms of the dough, mostly due to temperature and humidity.  You adjust to whatever the conditions are at any time, in order to compensate."

Heidi prefers working with locally grown island wheat, as well as other local ingredients.  "Once the wheat is cracked, it begins to break down.  It's sweeter when it's freshly ground. "

While Heidi uses island-grown wheat, she noted that sometimes island wheat isn't always the best for bread making.

"Island wheat has 10% protein, with a lower gluten amount than the 12-15% protein that is best for whole wheat bread.  So I occasionally have to mix other flours with ground island wheat.   I was told by a farmer that rainfall and heat at critical stages of growth are necessary to produce the best bread wheat."

Heidi measures freshly ground
wheat flour.
Levain is a natural starter made
of wheat flour and water, and key ingredient
for creating new batch of dough.

A brief pause from baking duties:   Maya and Heidi.
Heidi uses other natural products to the extent possible, and not always in baked goods.

"I collected spring ramps (leeks) and made a great pesto that I sold in a farmer's market.  People really loved that stuff.  I also use island grown flax seed, berries, and asparagus. "

Maya works this summer as Heidi's assistant.  She gained baking experience the previous summer working at Sweetie Pie in Fish Creek.  So far, Island Bread Company has supported Heidi and a half-time summer position.

On Thursdays and Fridays, bread baking days, customers can pick up the freshest Island Bread Company products at Mann's Store, Fiddler's Green, Red Cup, and also at the door of her bakery that opens to Lobdell Point Road.

Several customers were in line at the bakery door to pick up fresh bread when I arrived at noon to take a few more photos.   One recommendation:  Don't wait until Monday to buy one of these special loaves.  Get one while it is fresh, before the batch is sold out.

  -  Dick Purinton

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Tom Wilson powers the cable barge across Kitchi-Ti-Kipi Springs
(Big Springs) at Palms Book State Park, near Manistique, MI

Around Michigan With Our Island Dentist, Friend -

The weather forecast for the weekend was to be rainy and cool.  At the Wilson home in Sister Bay Saturday a baby shower was planned for expecting daughter, Erika.  Tom's wife, Gunilla, had invited  lady friends and relations for the party.  It was a weekend made for getting out of town, or off the island, and that is what island dentist and friend Tom Wilson and I did.

Its a current trend among aging rockers to dust off their amps, tune their guitars, and polish their acts before hitting the road with a "reunion tour," in an attempt to ignite yesterday's memories.  In a manner consequential only to us and those we know, Tom and I hoped retracing old tracks and making a few new ones across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan might rekindle memories from our 1976 road trip to the Iron Mountain Veteran's Administration Hospital.

Tom and I became good friends during island winters starting in 1975, days when our winter ferry made only a single round trip. Tom joined Mary Jo and me, and our kids, for supper, TV and an overnight on our couch Tuesday evenings following island dental appointments.  Once the new and more powerful icebreaker ferry Arni J. Richter began its twice-a-day scheduled service in the winter of 2003-04, those overnight visits ended.   Tom for the first time was able to work a short day on the island and then return to his Sister Bay home in the afternoon.  

Our excursion came in late October, 1976, approximately one year after my discharge from the U.S. Navy. During that year Tom completed extensive dental work approved through the VA.  He drilled away brittle amalgam, one tooth after another, then capped my molars with gold crowns.  Before reimbursement could be made, the work had to be verified by a VA dentist in Iron Mountain, MI.

I suggested we make my dental appointment into a two-day trip.  We would drive to Escanaba, stay with Emma Richter for the night, then drive on to Iron Mountain the next morning by way of Paul Richter's hunting camp near Gwinn.  That was Tom's first foray into the heart of the UP.

Kate's Lake

Paul Richter's Camp 55 was named for the distance from his Escanaba driveway to the middle branch of the Escanaba River where his cabin was located.  The way to camp took us on a series of roads that decreased in size from the 4-lane US-2, down to paved, then dirt county roads, and finally, the last stretch was a seven-mile long, straight-as-an-arrow pot-holed grade road.  You had to know where you were headed and have good directions to find it, because you would never stumble upon it by accident, and there would be no one to ask for directions.  This log cabin was well out of normal traffic patterns, seventeen miles from the nearest black-topped road, built in the 1860s as a surveyors cabin at a time when there were no roads.  A set of railroad tracks not far away that served to transport timber to the sawmills ran along a level bed.  That former rail bed is known as Kate's Grade, a 16-ft. wide strip straight through woodland, wetland and thick bush.

When we arrived at Camp 55 on that 1976 trip, it was around 10:30 a.m. of a late October morning.  Wood smoke curled from the cabin chimney as light snowflakes fell.  Uncle Paul was inside, pumping the treadles of his player piano, singing and entertaining himself.  We heard the honkey-tonk notes through the log cabin's walls.  Not only did it feel like we were home, we felt incredibly lucky to have found this oasis amidst the hundreds of square miles of woods, logged-over swaths and swamp.  We visited with Paul for about an hour before we set off again, this time to the west, following a two-track logging trail he guaranteed us would intersect with a black topped road some 15 miles to the west.  ("Take a left on the blacktop road and it'll take you right in to Iron Mountain.")

Paul spent nearly all his spare time at camp, right up until his death, tending a garden, feeding the animals, observing nature, and playing his piano, either alone or as he entertained camp neighbors and friends.

I'd returned a few times in the intervening years, including last September, 2010, when Mary Jo and I rode over that unforgettable, unpaved approach on my motorcycle.  We found the place successfully, after doubting many times if we were on the right track.  When we got there, Porkey and Marlene Prudhomme, who now own the property, weren't home.  So, we left them a note with a ferry schedule at their locked gate, and I followed up three months later with a Christmas card.  This couple had been best friends with Paul, and now they were the caretakers/owners of this forested camp property.

Porkey and Marlene first lived in an original log cabin neighboring Paul's camp, dating to the 1800s.  Their log cabin was used as a school for children of lumber camp supervisors.  It was about a half mile from Paul's camp, and right on the shore of a small lake.  The first teacher had been Kate, and that was how the nearby small lake was named.  In recent years, with an aging cabin and their own age begging for less maintenance, Porkey and Marlene decided to put up a new home where the cabin had stood.

Prior to this current trip, I had mailed a post card to Porkey and Marlene, hoping they would receive it in time to know of our travels.  As it happened, Porkey drove into town the day before we arrived and picked up his mail, so in anticipation of our arrival, he left the gate unlocked at the end of the long lane.  We were met warmly, first by their two little house dogs, then with refreshments, then supper.  We exchanged stories about the two Richter brothers, Paul and Arni, inquired of the Prudhomme's life in the woods, and related Washington Island events.  Porkey and Marlene had visited Washington Island only once, with Paul Richter.   It also happened to be Porkey's first time beyond Green Bay and into Door County.

"What about mosquitos? Doesn't it get pretty bad out here?" Tom asked Marlene.

Marlene shrugged.  "Nah.  We have them, sure," she replied.  "When I slowly paddle the canoe on the creek while Porkey fishes, that's when you get mosquitos.  But I don't let them bother me."

"Any black bears?"  Tom eyed several framed close-ups of bears hanging on the sitting room wall.

"Those bears were at our other camp, before we moved here," Marlene said. "A couple of miles to the west. We haven't seen many here.  But I've seen a moose several times from my four-wheeler.  I didn't know what I was looking at, at first.  Now, moose, they are big!"

A Richter family air-loom is discreetly passed.
"Wait a minute," Porkey said.  "I've got something for Thor from Paul's camp that Thor said he enjoyed."

Porkey went into a bedroom off the kitchen and rummaged a bit before returning with a box.

"Paul's Pet Fart. Thor will enjoy that, Porkey,"  I said.

Tom was already unscrewing the lid, curious to see what was inside the white plastic jar.

This well-used curiosity had brought many laughs in its day, and it brought back memories of other, less-repeatable gags and plaques that made up the major part of Paul Richter's cabin decor.

I took a few photos of the formal presentation before we departed at dusk.  We dodged young snowshoes that had come out to enjoy green shoots of spring grass as we bounced along the seven mile stretch of grade road.  We hoped returning in daylight would help us to make the right choice at each dirt road intersection on the way to the asphalt county road, then U.S. 2, and onward toward the Straits of Mackinaw.  

Mackinac Straits Bridge
Mackinac Straits and Boyne City

The road to the Straits was new territory for Tom.  As it had on Friday's drive, the time and the towns flew by without our notice as the conversation logjam of the past several years loosened bit by bit.   We discussed families, work, politics, the direction our home towns and county were headed, the status of the state and the nation.   When politics ebbed, it was sports and the NBA finals.

Saturday morning was overcast, lower 50s, wet and windy.  The Mackinac Bridge was barely visible in the fog and rain.  At Mackinaw City, on the tip of the Michigan mitt, tourists jammed shops and restaurants to get out of the weather, and the boat docks appeared sparsely dotted with tourists.  The same, slow boat traffic was undoubtedly being witnessed by ferries at home.

One hour after we crossed the long suspension bridge we were at son Thor's home in Boyne City, a small town on the inland bight of Boyne Lake.  Petosky, Walloon Lake, and Horton's Bay are a few of the place names on the route to Thor's home.  These places were an important influence on Ernest Hemingway's youth, later playing a role in his Nick Adams Stories and other works.

Thor led us on a quick tour of the Van Dam Wood Craft shop where top-end, classic boats are built for clients all around the country.  At this time, many boats were in the completed stages and were ready to be delivered.   One classic runabout restoration project was in progress, and a new hull would be started in the coming week.   These products are breathtakingly fine in line and workmanship, gleaming even under the light coat of shop dust.  From the Van Dam shop, we rounded Boyne Lake and Lake Charlevoix by way of the Ironton cable barge (four car capacity, four hundred yards distance), through the town of Charlevoix, rounding the north side of Boyne Lake into Horton Bay, where we stopped at the Red Fox Inn.

Thor and Tom feign enthusiasm
as I eagerly await encounter with
a Hemingway relative in
Horton Bay.

Typical top quality Van Dam custom craft

The lights in this old hotel turned museum/book store/shrine-to-Ernest Hemingway were burning brightly, and we heard footsteps as upstairs someone got to their feet and clomped down the steps to the former hotel dining room.

I had met James Hartwell before, the present day owner and descendent of the first hotel owner  (it is said by James Hartwell, among others, that Ernest Hemingway was taught to fish by this man.)   Books, magazines and mementos mostly honoring Hemingway were on display or for sale.   James remembered me - or remembered having talked about Washington Island, anyway - from my visit several years earlier.

You need a fair amount of time to catch up on all the news with James.  The new tidbit divulged this time was that it had recently been established, beyond a doubt, that James was actually fifth cousin to Ernest Hemingway.   As my two traveling companions excused themselves from the store, I carried on as polite listener, eventually purchasing two Hemingway books.   There is something about the old hotel and the former general store next door with its doors still open, and the enthusiasm of James Hartwell, that easily takes one back to an earlier time, the early 1900s, when families like the Hemingways spent summers in the north of Michigan, after taking steamers and trains to those rustic retreats far removed from Chicago.  Too, there is the literary connection that is fascinating.

We had a great dinner at an Italian restaurant, newly opened by acquaintances of Thor's, then packed some rhubarb from Thor's garden plot, and we headed back toward the Straits.

Big U.P. - Not nearly enough time

We did our best to cover as many points of interest as possible, and yet we hadn't scratched the surface as we headed back toward Escanaba on U.S. 2 Sunday morning.  We had an early start from St. Ignace which allowed us a quick stop at Big Springs, along the west shore of Indian Lake near Manistique.  The barge on cable, powered by its passengers turning the wheel, floats over the heart of the natural springs, clear waters 25 or more feet deep.  It is an out-of-the-way place, as nearly all U.P. places seem to be, but reward is found again in these locations with beauty, history, and an element of pleasant surprise.   Tom and I were half the tourism compliment floating across the springs that morning.

I couldn't pass up this opportunity to detour southward, toward point Detour, down the Garden Peninsula through Garden, with a quick stop at Fayette State Park and its beautiful Snail Shell Harbor.   It had been 40 years since I'd last seen the old company town buildings there, and the Michigan Parks people have done a great job of restoring and providing interpretive signage.   Fayette is another unexpected gem, and it takes a few hours of time to see it properly.  We did it in 30 minutes, but as I told Tom, "We're stopping, because you never know if you'll get back here again."

As it was, the next five hours included just two stops, for gas and food.   Otherwise, it was continuous driving from the peninsula that resembles Door County - minus people and tourism development - and I just made the 4 o'clock ferry at Northport with minutes to spare.  The car Trip Odometer showed 1000.1 miles at the top of the Sister Bay hill.  When we arrived in his driveway, Tom and Gunilla's home was quiet. All guests had left, and Tom planned to go for a late afternoon run while Gunilla would walk on a favorite  Liberty Grove back road.

This 2011 U.P. Reunion Tour had been nothing really special, but yet everything was special about it, including the memories we added to our first trip.  There would be no follow-up commemorative CD, no final Madison Square Garden bash.  Only this blog.

The gold crowns?   They're in great shape, still protecting the tooth under each crown.  Only one crown came off in thirty-five years, and Tom replaced it with modern epoxy.  I estimate that each crown is responsible for successfully aiding the ingestion of tons of food during those years.  I have Tom to thank for that handiwork.

  -  Dick Purinton

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Dr. Tom Wilson, island dentist, monitors progress as Jesse Messersmith (L)
and Paul Sefcik (background) of Patterson Dental completed
installation of new equipment Monday afternoon.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

The island dental office has undergone a facelift, and despite the disarray of tools and equipment Monday afternoon, technicians completed the installation before the 5 p.m. ferry.  As a result, Dr. Tom Wilson arrived by ferry from Sister Bay this Tuesday morning to open his office for patient appointments.

Thanks to the many island organizations and individuals who donated toward this project, new equipment and cabinets were installed from Patterson Dental.  These items included a left/right delivery system (water, air, suction), an operatory patient chair, doctor's stool, a pivoting light post, tubing and valves.   Just prior to the arrival of the new equipment, during a routine examination, Dr. Wilson noted that the X-ray head had failed.   Timing being what it is, that, too, will be replaced within a week's time by a new unit.   Total cost, once the entire project is completed, will approach $23,000, which is the sum accumulated through donations and memorials.

Immediately following Memorial Day Monday, the dental office was closed while Town of Washington crew painted, installed new carpeting, and assisted with relocating plumbing.  Tony Young of Tony Young Electric, Inc., modified wiring to accommodate the new equipment.

Tony Young (L) and Steve Beekman
assisted with modifications early Monday
morning to receive
 new dental office equipment.
This dental office upgrade is the first major improvement in some 38 years, dating back to when Dr. Wilson began his practice on the island.  The Island Medical Memorial Fund, Inc. hopes this remodel will serve Dr. Wilson's needs in the near future, and that of his successor at such time as Dr. Wilson retires.

Island Optical Care Currently Not Available

In February, Optometrist Dr. Paul Filar of Sturgeon Bay informed the Island Memorial Medical Fund Inc. and his island patients by letter that he would not be traveling to Washington Island this summer for appointments.  His letter cited the commitment of time, travel and expense for his weekly visits here, and the need to balance his time between career and family.

It was not clear whether this was intended as a temporary break in island service, or if this would mark the end of a long, approximately 35-year, relationship begun by Dr. Filar's predecessor and former partner, Dr. Richard Weisner.

Dr. Filar wrote that " is very hard for me to take a break from this service - I do not like to disappoint people."   He also stated " this point, this decision only extends to this summer; we will see what the future holds.  Thank you very much for all of your support over the years, and I hope to continue to maintain a positive working relationship with you."

In lieu of traveling to the island to see patients, Dr. Filar has offered several benefits for island patients who wish to have eye care appointments through his Sturgeon Bay clinic.

Following discussion regarding Dr. Filar's letter, and noting the many years of providing consistent, supportive eye care for the island, and while not wishing to close the door on the possibility that his service might be reinstated, the Island Memorial Medical Fund committee did opt to find a replacement for continuation of service as being the best possible outcome for island patients.

Finding a new provider for island eye care would be challenging, it was acknowledged, but the Committee wishes nevertheless to open the door to possibilities.   If there should be knowledge of a professional who might fill this need, please contact any of the following members of the Island Memorial Medical Fund:   Marlene Mann;  Joan Blair;  Charlotte Hansen; Leon Shellswick;  Dick Purinton, as well as the Town of Washington.

 -  Dick Purinton

Monday, June 6, 2011


Legion Color guard and bagpipers lead procession from
Bethel Church
to the Island Cemetery and School House Beach.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Memorial Day came and went, and how the past week has flown by.   I'd like to offer a few photos to show what's been happening, beginning with the procession to the cemetery following the program in Bethel Church.   Lt. Col. (U.S. Army, Ret.) Bill Nauta, an island resident and soon to be Legion Post Commander, addressed the audience of several hundred people, focusing on his Army career, especially his years spent on staff at the Pentagon.  Before Bill spoke, selected Student Essays were read by contest winners Sophia Hagen, Patricia Hansen, and Maren Schutz (shown below), each of whom provided excellent examples of thinking through the various probable answers to the question, "Is it the proper role of the United States to provide military support to emerging governments around the globe?"  

Enough With the Painting, Already!

Spring and getting ready at the Ferry Line are synonymous with painting and inspections.   (Two ferries will undergo U.S. Coast Guard annual inspections tomorrow, June 7th.)
We completely stripped the outer decks of the ferry Robert Noble this winter and primed them, then waited for several months for warm, dry weather to lay down the Sherwin-Williams non-skid. This product goes on nicely when temperatures are 60 and up, the likes of which we did not see until very late May, just a few days prior to Memorial Day Weekend, in fact.   Here Pete Nikolai goes ashore for more paint.  A huge job for five or six men over a two-day time period.  We hope this paint job will last 20 or more years, with occasional touch-ups here and there.

Nature Calls

Finer weather has brought out the finery of the woods, in this case a carpet featuring trillium in abundance. (They are now actually in the decline, as other plants and flowers vie for our attention.)   We've had several asparagus pickings, some rhubarb, but with the crunch of spring duties we've not yet prepared for or planted a garden.  May not get to it this year at the rate things are going, which would be a shame when late August and September come around, and we start to miss home-grown tomatoes and cucumbers and squash.

We did play a bit this weekend by taking a slow canoe paddle into the bayou.  Mary Jo thinks she saw several snapping turtles, just their heads poking out from under root masses in the back waters.  Minnows and bass nests everywhere, and carp in the deeper water just outside the bayou.  It was a fine time to look up close at nature.

And speaking of work that doubles as play, I spent most of Thursday and part of Friday (the part that wasn't raining) building a bike rack for the Northport Ferry Terminal.   To date, bicyclists have just leaned their bikes against the large stones, which I guess is alright if it isn't a $2000 model Trek.   Well, I'm pleased to have completed, along with special welded do-dad sculpture on top and a paint job to match, a bike rack that is nothing if not an original.   I copied basic dimensions from a commercial rack we have on the island, using iron, steel and galvanized pipe found in our metal pile behind the shed.  I'm proud to say, not one piece was purchased.  Most pieces were destined for the scrapper's pile, anyway.  A few nicks on the fingers later (I had lost my gloves temporarily and did the cutting, welding and grinding without any) and a few splotches of bright paint show as the final touches of paint are applied.

With that, my backlog of photos too good not to use, but not useful enough for a stand-alone story, is back to square one.

 - Dick Purinton

National Geographic Piques Interest

When it was the only highway bridge across Sturgeon Bay, the Michigan Street
Bridge was struck by the freighter Carlsholm in October of 1960.  Now, with
two other bridges across the bay built in recent decades, this bridge
is a commercial navigational obstacle with debatable highway value.

Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

A few readers may have mistakingly assumed that the title of this entry containing the words "National Geographic" is a follow-up to my previous entry about turtle peeping, but it is not.

Recently, I perused the April issue of National Geographic on my iPad, and the photography as always was terrific, and, I would even say the photos were superior to the printed magazine format.

Miracle Above Manhattan was the story that caught my attention.  It's about how an abandoned railroad spur, the mile and a half High Line in the Chelsea neighborhood, once overgrown with trees and weeds, an unused strip of railroad trestle and right-of-way that runs smack through the heart of Manhattan's residential and business neighborhoods.  This section of track 25 feet above ground now offers a safe and sought-after elevation with spectacular panorama of river, sky and surrounding city lights.

Mayor Giuliani had wanted to tear it down, but a group of passionate New Yorkers persisted.  They were responsible for transforming this section of abandoned commercial track into useful, artful public space.  They weren't different in their passion from the local, Sturgeon Bay group who went by the moniker "Save Our Bridge," who organized to help popularize, memorialize through registry, and save Sturgeon Bay's aging but surplus downtown bridge.  But that New York group envisioned transforming the unused structure into a linear combination of parks, gardens, rest spots and social venues.  This feature has become a regular destination for thousands of New Yorkers and city visitors.  The Geographic photos showing people enjoying this strip of elevated green are stunning and convincing.  A quote from the article: "From the day the first section of the High Line opened in June 2009, it has been one of the city's major tourist attractions..."

Why couldn't a similar plan have worked for the Michigan Street bridge in Sturgeon Bay by utilizing the outdated, and for a time condemned, bridge structure not as an actual bridge, but as a focal point for recreational activities?   This transformation would have been unique - I've never heard of this being done elsewhere - and it would have saved state taxpayers millions in rehabilitation dollars,  dollar already spent to beef up the structural supports, to reconstruct the draw equipment, and to paint the bridge from one end to the other.   There will undoubtedly be future expenditures to maintain an 80-year old bridge structure as a certifiably safe highway bridge.

An essay in my book "Bridges Are Still News," (Island Bayou Press, December 2010 - $16.50) suggested an option similar to the Manhattan railroad project by keeping only the "stubs" or piers, one on  each side of the bay.  To my knowledge, such an idea was never considered.   Had the bridge been abandoned, the center spans could have been removed to improve shipping navigation.   The piers or bridge stubs would have provided significant public space for music, food courts, sidewalk art, sightseeing, fishing, attractive plantings and benches...a waterfront vantage point that would have made them a noteworthy destination.

The uniqueness of the rusted, riveted rail trestles shown in the Miracle Above Manhattan article is not unlike that of the riveted girders of the Michigan Street Bridge.   Both were built during times when  steel design and construction were vital to industry and commerce.

When the current restoration work is completed on the Michigan Street bridge, the structure may be serviceable for several decades with minimal work, so for readers this blog might seem like whistling in the wind.  But there ought to be consideration by a future generation when the subject of maintaining a National Historic monument vs. cost to maintain comes around once again.

In the meantime, the old bridge is still closed to traffic (going on for what seems like several years, now) and until it is reopened to vehicular traffic, nearby businesses will continue to suffer the side effects of sandblasting and painting, the Christo-like canvas curtains, the rows of orange construction barrels, and the resulting lack of consumer traffic to their businesses.

For all of the dollars spent on this bridge to date during reconstruction, the City of Sturgeon Bay could have entered a period of bustling economic activity.  The "bridge-stubs" could have become a grand provider of foot traffic for those same business that have folded or are suffering for lack of access to their doors.

  -  Dick Purinton